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Mental Stressors in Learning

When Covid-19 struck, the world ceased to be the same. From Day 1, stressors have taken over our lives - fear of getting the virus, jobs lost, hunger, safety, and security at home, especially among the most vulnerable sectors - the poor farmers and workers. Just imagine the severe impact it has on the most vulnerable sectors - the poor farmers, workers, lowly employees who, even before the Pandemic, were receiving measly pay with many of them now jobless or underwork. Using the 2015 Poverty Census as parameter, Bicol has the highest number of poor people who may now be going through the most challenging times in their lives. 

Mental health, officially, has become the No. 1 public concern - now called the biggest disaster to hit the planet in 100 years. Alarmingly, one of the major casualties of unresolved stress is our students.

It was this issue that the Department of Education (DepEd) Region V, in partnership with Tabang Bicol Movement (TBM), tried to address in their second joint regional Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Services (MHPSS) Webinar in preparation for the opening of classes. Highlighting the importance of the MHPSS webinar, the regional DepEd sent out a memorandum to all its divisions and units to “actively participate in the webinar scheduled on October 8 and to invite learners, parents, teachers to attend.” The event followed the morning’s regional event for all teachers – it was World Teachers’ Day. 

Along with the DepEd Mental Health Division, TBM organized the program’s content that focused on “Home Empowerment: Preparing the Homes for Conducive Learning”. The program sought to identify and help mitigate the stressors that obstruct or impede learning to make homes safe and conducive for remote learning during the Pandemic. It was a follow-up to the first virtual MHPSS held in October last year at a time when modular and online became the primary mode of education to comply with the health protocols of social distancing, quarantine, and face masks to escape the deadly virus.

Last Oct. 8’s regionwide webinar, “The Home is now the School,” livestreamed to 20,000 viewers with more than 1,000 Zoom participants, and tackled the impact of modular and online learning on the teachers, parents, and students. Volunteers from participating partners joined the five-hour webinar. Among them were the Mariners Polytechnic Colleges Foundation, Center for Disaster Preparedness, Metro Naga Water District, Women in Maritime, Kintab, and the Naga Central School. Dr. Francine Bofill, Dr. Peachy Corpuz-Mendoza, and Dr. Vivian Maninang opened up discussions to prepare the webinar participants with the requirements of the new distance modalities where the HOME is the center of learning and the parents, with an added responsibility or “burden” of being teachers.

A year since remote learning began, it’s a given fact that remote learning for most families, especially the poor and vulnerable, had been challenging due to financial and technology concerns. Not one parent in the TBM communities I visited last year had expressed any contrary view to the general perception that their home can take the place of education even for a short period. “Dae po pwede, mayong load, mayong gadget, mayong signal… mayong kakanon, mabuang na ako Mam,” one parent repeatedly told me, quite tearfully.

In addition, they also mentioned other persisting problems: jobs lost, violence inside the homes, inability to access AYUDA from the barangay, the LGU, or the local DSWD, and the like. Then there was the confusion of where to go when Covid strikes any of the family and the worries of whether the parents may still be alive when morning comes and who will take care of their children when they are gone. In addition, the poor have been rendered more vulnerable because of their children’s education changes and the uncertainty of life in their own homes in the barangay.

These concerns focused the program content on how to empower the home, raise the awareness of the members of the family - the parents and the learners - and the teachers on the nature of stressors that impede and burden and respond as one community to be able to help create safe spaces for conducive learning during these times. TBM shared these concerns with the regional DepEd.

Right away, Dr. Boots Maninang, head of the MHPSS unit, and the Partnership officer Ms. Tin Barroso supported by RD Gilbert Sadsad, were onboard the second joint webinar. The problems in the home were the major domestic stressors that essentially posed as obstacles to essential learning, which is listening and appreciating. For how can a student learn if the home is where one listens more to a grumbling stomach, shouting match of family members, the painful growls of the sick, and if one is less fortunate, the fierce prying eyes of some human vulture.

I identified five main stressors of home learning that constantly appeared in the conversations among members of TBM communities, namely:1) Technology related: lack of gadgets, communication/internet signal, lack of load; 2) Food-related: hunger, nutrition; 3) Covid-19 and health; 4) Disaster-related: vulnerable houses or shelter, flooding, environment; 5) Violence against women and children (VACW) -related: domestic violence, community crimes, safety, and security. 

Empowering the home, therefore, requires a holistic, integrated, and comprehensive approach. The Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD) was critical because most of the learners in public schools belong to the Pantawid Pampamilya (4Ps) and its other programs for the poor. In addition, TBM invited the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) because of its role with the LGUs - in the barangays, city, municipal and provincial - for linkage, cooperation, and coordination aside from its function as the lead IATF agency on the Covid response. RD Leo Quintilla of DSWD and RD Anthony Nuyda of DILG not only welcomed TBM’s invitation but graciously extended support with the active participation of their focal persons - regional and provincial - as well as participants in the four-hour webinar. 

The other partners were Mariners, CDP, the Central Bicol State University in Agriculture (CBSUA), and the USAID, whose Brigada Pagbasa program is also for the poor and vulnerable sectors. The holistic, integrated, and comprehensive approach to the lingering problems pestering our students’ learning during the Pandemic included: Proposed solutions and advice from other health/medical, food, nutrition, Safety, and security sectors. Dr. Ofelia Samar-Sy from Albay gave a comprehensive medical view of the COVID-19 and a powerful presentation on knowledge and tools to empower the family on home care management of Covid cases. Dr. Susan Balingit known as Dok Gulay shared the value of nutrition and not just food. She emphasized eating more vegetables that are organically grown while promoting family gardening and farming inside or outside the homes. TBM invited DepEd Secretary Briones for her inspirational message.

The webinar ended with Dr. Cely Binoya and Dr. Ampuan, who presented the results of the pre-webinar survey questions to 3,000 participants, of whom 1,526 responded. More of this is in the next column.


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